Saturday, November 7, 2015

FORGOTTEN GEM: Too Young the Hero (1988)

                “Too Young the Hero” is the true story of Calvin Graham.  Calvin became the youngest serviceman in WWII when he volunteered at age 12.  The movie was made for TV and appeared on CBS in 1998.  It was the last film directed by Buzz Kulik (“Sergeant Ryker”). 

                The story is told in flashback form.  In 1943, Calvin (Rick Shroder) is arrested for desertion and thrown in the brig at a naval air station.  He has time to revisit key moments in his life.  He and his friends were in a theater when word of the Pearl Harbor attack arrived.  He and his brother leave home because their stepfather is an abusive alcoholic.  They are staying in a seedy hotel and doing odd jobs to survive the Depression when his brother enlists.  A few months later, Calvin forges his mother’s signature and enters the Navy.  He is only twelve and does not look much older than that, but the Navy is desperate for recruits.  Boot camp features the clich├ęd DI and montage.

                Calvin is assigned to a gunnery crew on the battleship South Dakota.  He is wounded in the Battle of Guadalcanal when the ship is pummeled by shells.  Calvin bravely helped with fire control and the wounded.  He himself was wounded, suffering a broken jaw.  When the South Dakota returns to the States, Calvin is given a pass to return home with the understanding that he will turn himself in as underage.  Unfortunately, when he turns himself in, it is assumed that he is a deserter and he is arrested.  A sadistic guard is thrown in because Hollywood requires it.  Only intervention by his sister gets him released.

                “Too Young the Hero” is low budget, even for a made for TV movie.  It looks cheesy and drab.  The music is sappy.  The acting is terrible.  Shroder was coming off “Silver Spoons” so this was his first adult role and he is very shaky.  The supporting cast is low rent.  The film does use quite a bit of archival footage and that is a cool aspect of the movie.  A lot of planes get shot down in this movie.  It’s shoot down porn.  However, the blending of the footage is not seamless. The movie is admirably accurate.  There are no ridiculous enhancements of the true story.  A romance is not shoehorned in (that would have been creepy since Calvin was only 12).  I question the sadistic guard episode, but it could have happened I suppose.
"That's right, ma.  It's a real movie, not a TV show."

                Calvin Graham’s story begged to be covered in a made for TV movie and Rick Shroder was the logical choice to play him so the movie was a natural.  It’s a shame that the production was so lame, but at least it was made and it is truthful.  You do learn the facts behind this forgotten hero.  (That is the only thing that keeps the movie from getting an F.)  This was the first time I saw this film, but for years I have been giving a reading assignment about Calvin Graham in my America History classes.  The movie covers all the events in the reading, which is cool.  All things considered, I would have to say that the reading is a much better use of time than watching the movie.

                The movie’s post script informs you that Graham finally got an honorable discharge in 1978.  What it does not mention is that after being released from the brig, he went back to school for a while.  At age 17, he entered the Marines and was disabled in a fall off a pier.  For years he campaigned to get the discharge rectified and get his medals back.  He did get all the medals back in 1978, except the Purple Heart (for what reason I do not know).  In 1988, he was finally given a disability and back pay, but still no Purple Heart!  Two years later, after his death, his family received the darned medal.

GRADE =  D  


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The year of release was 1988 (not 1998). I'm afraid I can't agree with your dismissive and rather harsh review of this obviously low-budget but still fine 'movie of the week'. It's too bad you can't see it for what it is.

    1. Thanks. I'll fix the year. As far as the review, I don't grade based on sincerity.

  3. The battleship that appears in the film is not actually the USS South Dakota but the USS North Carolina or the USS Washington

  4. It was the USS North Carolina, docked in Wilmington.


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